Korstick Plays Franck

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FRANCK: Prélude, Chorale et Fugue. Violin Sonata in A (trans. for piano solo by Cortot). Prélude, Aria et Final / Michael Korstick, pno . CPO 555 242-2

Michael Korstick, who first made his name on records as (in my opinion) the finest Beethoven sonata interpreter since John O’Conor (and Annie Fischer before him), has since cast his net further afield to other composers, mostly late Romantics and Debussy, whose complete solo piano music he has also put on CD. Here he set his sights on César Franck, and once again has created an outstanding disc.

The Prélude, Chorale et Fugue is, of course, considered Franck’s finest piano work and was high on the list of pieces most enjoyed by the legendary Alfred Cortot, whose recording of it I have in my collection. Cortot was an unusual Frenchman in that he played with a real backbone in the music along with one of the most beautiful, deep-in-the-keys tone anyone has ever produced. Korstick’s essentially brighter sound does not match Cortot for warmth, but he had clearly absorbed this music internally and here gives us his own personal “take” on it. Interestingly, he plays it with a more Germanic feel, relating it more to Beethoven than to Debussy, and this approach serves the music well. All those double-time figures in the right hand sparkle and dance around, illuminating the music like a string of blinking Christmas lights on a dark night. He also lays into the minor-key music of the “Chorale” as if it was by Mussorgsky, and this, too, is to the music’s advantage. The concluding fugue is beautifully balanced, played with remarkable poise as well as feeling, building in tension to an ecstatic finish.

I’m not usually a fan of musical transcriptions, and I love the Franck Violin Sonata as a violin sonata, but Cortot did a fairly nice transcription of it for solo piano and Korstick plays it with loving tenderness and feeling. He may not like me saying this, but his playing was so good that I kept hoping to hear a violinist come in, if only because I’d have loved to hear one on the same exalted level as he. The second movement is particularly exciting.

The recital ends with a piece I was not previously familiar with, the Prélude, Aria et Final. It turned out to be a very interesting piece, particularly in the muscular way Korstick played it. I tell you, this man plays every note of every piece as if his life depends on it. Nothing is ever glossed over; no details escape him in whatever he performs.

Chalk this up as yet another exciting and interesting excursion for this outstanding pianist. Will we be lucky enough to hear him pursue Scriabin or Medtner sonatas in the near future? I can only hope!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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